The Native-Americana of Edward S. Curtis #7

Sigesh - Apache (1907)

1 comment:

Jay River said...


Thanks for all the great historical photos. Let me share some information with you. I notice that few people post any comments on the ES Curtis prints.

Edward S. Curtis, Legendary Photographer, What no Photoshop?

Curtis didn't use a Canon or Nikon SLR, but made his images with a 6 1/2 x 8 1/2 Premo reversible back camera. It had a 22" bellows, and a ground glass back. It took at least 15 minutes to set up a picture, and his fastest shutter speed was 1/100th of a second. He didn't have a "healing" or "cloning" tool, sharpening, curves, or levels... neither Photoshop nor the computer, or the CCD had been invented yet. My God! How did he do it?

For as much criticism as this man has received in the last century, it leads one to think that perhaps he did create a little magic. Perhaps he was on to something in the photographic world.

The beginnings of the modern west certainly resonate in the works of Edward S. Curtis. His photos were made at a time when Indians already driven from their lands were being shorn from their cultures.

This history is very apparent in a new film on Curtis's works, THE INDIAN PICTURE OPERA, (Amazon, DVD). In it, his images are explained in his own words. It's a re-creation of a 1911 E.S. Curtis lecture and slide show.

This film goes way beyond the images in showing how the west was transformed. It was a last grasp at recapturing was he called the "vanishing race". Ironic that Curtis's works were underwritten by J.P. Morgan, who helped bankroll expansion of railroads into America's west.

A journey into the past is always enlightening. Even though photography has been reinvented by digital, it's golden age was a century ago.

Jay River